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Review: Pocket Wizard Plus III

by Thomas Campbell on 06/27/2012

Pocket Wizard has long been considered the gold standard of wireless triggers in the photo industry. Their wireless triggers come built into such high-end professional equipment as Profoto lights and Sekonic light meters. But with the signature PocketWizard Plus II getting a little long in the tooth, its replacement was due and it has exceeded all my expectations.

First Impressions

The first thing I noticed about the new Pocket Wizard Plus III is how it sits on the hot shoe. Instead of having the LCD and controls face backwards, they face to the left. At first, I thought this was really strange, but in use, it really doesn’t hamper or change how you use them. There is also a screw on the back, so you can easily mount the PocketWizard on a light stand rather than just have it dangle by the strap. The plastic is solid and the battery door is easy to open. The antenna is now a much more robust plastic rather than the thing rubber that was in the previous model. The foot of the new model felt about the same as the previous model. Overall, it looks and felt much better than the previous model right out of the box.

Tech Specs

From the B&H Photo listing:

Frequency 340-354 MHz (FCC/IC)
Channels 16 standard channels
16 selective Quad Zone Triggering channels
Zones A/B/C/D
Antenna Precision tuned internal coil
Display Backlit 1″ / 2.5 cm LCD
Range 1640′ / 500 m
Max Sync Speed Up to 1/250 sec. for focal plane shutters
Up to 1/500 sec. for leaf shutters
Triggering Speed Up to 14.5 fps
Contact Time 62 milliseconds in normal
2 milliseconds in High Speed Receive mode
Output Power <0.001 W
Power Supply 2 x AA batteries (alkaline, NiMH, NiCAD, NiZn, Li-ion)
USB (with optional adapter)
Battery Life Up to 50 hours
Max Port Sync Voltage 300 V
Max Current Handling 1.0 A peak, 0.2 A continuous current limited
Voltage Present 3 V
Operating Temperature 5-120°F / -15-50°C
Storage Temperature -22-185°F / -30-85°C
Input/Output 3.5 mm stereo miniphone jack
Hot shoe
Dimensions 5.25 x 2 x 1″ / 13.3 x 5.1 x 3.2 cm
Weight 4 oz /120 g

New Features

The biggest thing to me is the inclusion of groups. This allows you to group lights and fire them independently of the other groups. This is invaluable when you are setting up and want to make sure your background is set to the right power, your side lights and key lights are all set as well. This is something I utilize every time I set up a complex lighting portrait, and this new feature by itself is worth upgrading from the previous model.

There are now 32 channels (16 channels, plus 16 quad-zone channels). This is especially helpful when you are shooting with other photographers. With the old 4-channel models, sometimes it was tough to find a channel that each person could use, but with many more channels available, that shouldn’t be a problem anymore.

The new Pocket Wizards have an even longer range than before – under ideal conditions up to 1600 feet! I think this is incredible, but I have yet to be in a situation where I needed that much range. I attempted a number of shooting situations that I would regularly use, such as a light outside firing into a window or around a corner, and the PW3 worked flawlessly.  Also, I live in Houston, so I rarely let myself be 1600 feet away from expensive camera gear.

There is also a new LCD display, which is great for being able to see which of the new settings you are using. It is not as intricate as the MultiMax, but the ability to use groups and change channels are easily seen on the screen.

A battery meter – FINALLY! On previous models and other brands of transmitters and receivers, you often just guess at what your battery charge is. PocketWizard IIIs use standard AA batteries, and has a battery meter to tell you exactly how much charge. No more guessing on long shoots.

Finally, you can upgrade firmware at home via the built-in USB port. No more shipping it out and waiting. You can also power the unit through this port, which is great if you are going to place a remote strobe in a ceiling for a year or more.

Negatives

The only negative I can really come up with is that it is a little awkward to have the controls on the side of your camera instead of the back. However, after using the tranceivers a few times, it was very natural to pull it down to check your settings on the PocketWizard.

This unit is a bit bigger than some competitors, but I am not sure it could be much smaller and still take the readily available AA batteries. The tradeoff between hard to find smaller batteries and AAs that photographers use for cameras, flashes and all other types of gear is one I am willing to make. I always have a couple dozen extra AA batteries in my camera bag, and the rechargeable PowerEX batteries I used in these worked like champs.

Value

Retail price on these units are $139. They are a huge upgrade over the previous model at about 60% of the price. I think these are a fantastic unit, and at that much lower price, they have tremendous value. One of the biggest pluses of PocketWizards is that they are the industry standard. You can rent them just about anywhere and just about every camera store offers them. So if you drop and break one, it is easy to replace, without having to wait a week or more to find one and ship it to you. Having it much cheaper than previous models (usually priced around $200) makes this a no-brainer decision for someone wanting a new set of transmitters.

My Recommendation

I would definitely recommend these to anyone buying them. They are solidly built, affordable, and easy to use. The PocketWizard Multi-Max always felt a little too complicated for me, but this was much simpler to use. Just having a battery indicator could be reason enough to upgrade, because I know I always feel unprofessional if something runs out of batteries during a shoot. Or maybe I can’t  figure out why group B won’t fire. This helps a lot in that respect. These units are reliable, sturdy and easy to use.

I am not sure I would go out and sell my perfectly working PocketWizard Plus IIs, but I might secretly hope that they break so I can have an excuse to upgrade.

If you are buying your first set of transmitters and receivers, I wholeheartedly recommend you buy the PocketWizard Plus III units. You will not be disappointed.

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